Misery loves company, but it isn’t always a good judge of the company it keeps. And sometimes, when grief runs too deep, it will invent its own. Sam lies unresponsive in a hospital, his heart beating strong but his post-overdose brain damaged beyond repair. While his soul remains locked away, Paolo, his one-time soul mate, dabbles in similar substances as to those that put Sam in his present state. Then Geoff shows up. For a year he was Sam’s lover. He reveals that Sam may have been getting ready to leave Paolo, and he wants conservatorship, the ability to “pull the plug” if Sam doesn’t regain consciousness. This is The Waiting Game.
Written by Charles Gershman and directed by Nathan Wright, The Waiting Game covers an indeterminate period of time after Sam’s overdose. Paolo is now in a strained relationship with young Tyler — strained because Tyler sees what Paolo doesn’t want to, that he is consumed by the thought that Sam is somehow still with him. Geoff’s appearance strains their relationship further, starting a war of wills over who gets to call Sam theirs, and who gets to make the call on when to say goodbye.
Julian Joseph, Marc Sinoway, Ibsen Santos, Joshua Bouchard
The cast features Joshua Bouchard as Geoff, Julian Joseph as Tyler, Mark Sinoway as Paolo, and Ibsen Santos as a strikingly underutilized Sam. While The Waiting Game opens with what looks like a happy scene from a dinner party among friends, the cozy feeling quickly evaporates as the play begins in earnest.
A stiff unease between the principal characters, without the context of back-story, results in the first several scenes also feeling somewhat tense and stiff, and not in a particularly compelling way. The story is intriguing though, and with some patience the story becomes not only compelling, but moving. It just takes some work to get there.
Once it’s sorted how all of the characters are related and relate to each other, it seems like everything will fall into place. But that’s not quite the case. The twists and turns are ambiguous enough to keep you second-guessing everything. It’s unclear whether, after a certain point, we are witnessing the inner workings of Paolo’s drug-fueled hallucinations or a miraculous intersection between the physical and the metaphysical. Or just a cruel prank.
Julian Joseph, Marc Sinoway
Geoff and Paolo share a chemistry that makes their scenes stand out for the alternating currents of desire and despair. Both are deeply affected by Sam’s partial presence in their lives, and in their pain they seek out any respite, even if that respite is supremely unhealthy for them. The connection between Paolo and Tyler doesn’t produce quite as much heat, though there are plenty of sparks. They are mismatched as a couple, and little about how they interact explains what they would be doing together — except perhaps that Tyler shows interest in Paolo, and Paolo also shows interest in himself.
While the other characters bounce off of each other in anger or lust, Sam sometimes walks achingly slowly behind them or stands at the periphery of the stage, contorting into painful-looking poses. His presence is ghostly, mysterious. It’s a bewildering, distracting addition to the action. It does succeed, however, in emphasizing how little we know of the character and who he was before the overdose.
That feels like a gaping hole, much like the one Sam’s absence is supposed to be to Paolo and Geoff. But it’s hard to feel for a character about whom we know so little. We have the unreliable views of two bereft lovers and no objective truth. From what little we do find out, he doesn’t sound like a very good partner. He was selfish, prone to lying, and put others at risk. How do we mourn along with either of his quarreling lovers when they have given us little reason to? The performers elicit tenderness and compassion, but without more substance it’s difficult for those feelings to live on.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Top: Marc Sinoway, Julian Joseph
The Waiting Game
Written by Charles Gershman, directed by Nathan Wright
Produced by Snowy Owl at 59E59 Theaters
Wednesday, February 6 – Sunday, February 23, 2019